The evening began with the decision to make highly touted rookie Tyler Seguin a healthy scratch against the Sabres, and ended with the Bruins suffering a 3-2 setback against the Sabres as Boston opened a key two-game road trip against Northeast Division foes in frustrating fashion on Wednesday.
It's certainly true that the youngster could benefit from watching the occasional game from up top in the press box alongside assistant Doug Jarvis, soaking in knowledge from the coach's three-plus decades in the NHL. But when the only option to replace Seguin in the lineup is Daniel Paille, the wisdom of the move is less clear.
Paille has no goals and just one assist in 11 games, posting a minus-2 and committing several costly gaffes this season as he's struggled to earn regular playing time. He didn't do much on Wednesday to improve his case for a regular role, as he failed to produce a single point, shot or hit in 10:43 of ice-time.
He was far from alone in is his struggles on this night though, as Boston's lack of discipline and inability to convert their own chances cost them a shot at two valuable points.
Boston twice pulled ahead by a goal, only to suffer a defensive lapse on the ensuing shift as Buffalo answered the first goal 72 seconds later and needed just 32 seconds to make it 2-2 in the third. Drew Stafford, returning to the lineup after missing 15 of the last 16 games with a shoulder injury, scored all three goals for Buffalo.
The first came on a power play following a questionable boarding penalty to Milan Lucic. The game-winner also came on the man-advantage, this time when Shawn Thornton was called for goaltender inference after colliding with Ryan Miller (32 saves) out in front of the crease. That call wiped out a Brad Marchand goal that would have put Boston up 3-2. Instead, Stafford scored 12 seconds later and it was 3-2 Buffalo.
"It affected us a fair bit," said Bruins coach Claude Julien of the penalty calls. "That first goal against, I think the Lucic [boarding] call was a real tough call against us.
"I don't know how to interpret that goalie interference anymore," added Julien. "The goaltender is out at least five feet outside his paint and then you have somebody run into him, whatever way you want to look at it, it ends up in another goal."
The Bruins further hurt themselves in the closing minutes when Lucic was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for criticizing the refs from the bench in the final two minutes. The Bruins then had to try to net the equalizer while a man down, which they still nearly did on a Patrice Bergeron rebound off the side of the net with 49 seconds left.
Zdeno Chara also had a couple chances in front in the closing seconds, and after the final whistle he jabbed with Miller, leading to a major melee on the ice. Chara tried to get at Paul Gaustad, while Marc Savard jumped in and unwisely pulled tough guy Cody McCormick out of the pile. Savard, who just returned from post-concussion syndrome earlier this month, shouldn't be mixing it up with anyone with the gloves off, but he at least showed some passion with the effort.
That was missing from too much of the rest of lineup in this one, with the "energy line" of Thornton, Marchand and Greg Campbell (a combined 12 shots) and rookie defenseman Steven Kampfer (career-high 20:19, first NHL point) being notable exceptions.
"At the end, there's frustration and maybe lack of discipline there," said Julien. "So we didn't help ourselves."
Fortunately, the Flyers of all people did help the Bruins, as Philadelphia beat Montreal 5-3 on Wednesday. That keeps the Bruins just two points behind the Habs in the battle for first place in the division, and Boston can pull into a tie for the lead with a victory in Montreal on Thursday.
They won't do that without a better, and smarter, effort than what they put in on Wednesday in Buffalo.
"You've got to keep you emotions in check and you've got to be able to play those big games with a lot of poise," said Julien. "I think that's what we've got to if we want to rebound tomorrow."